Kepco restarts Takahama No. 4 reactor amid anti-nuclear protest

by

Staff Writer

Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 4 reactor was restarted Wednesday just over 14 months after it was forced to shut down, bringing to four the number of reactors currently operating in Japan.

“The No. 4 reactor was turned back on at 5 p.m. today. It’s an important step, but it’s not the end. We’ll proceed with operations carefully, with an attitude of always having safety as the top priority,” Kepco President Shigeki Iwane said in a statement following the restart.

Kepco officials reported no problems during Wednesday’s final preparation to fire up the No. 4 reactor in Fukui Prefecture, which had been idle since a restart attempt was aborted in February last year when an alarm went off due to a problem with a generator.

That incident led to anti-nuclear activists in neighboring Shiga filing a temporary injunction a month later to halt the restarts of the Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors, saying that safety standards were inadequate. In a landmark decision, the Otsu District Court agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered that the reactors be kept offline.

But after Kepco appealed, the Osaka High Court reversed the decision in March this year, saying that the safety standards were not unreasonable. That ruling paved the way for the restart of the No. 4 reactor Wednesday.

Kepco said that criticality at the reactor is expected to be reached by early Thursday morning. Electricity generated by the reactor will be ready for consumer use by mid-June.

Plans to restart the Takahama No. 3 reactor are also moving forward. Nuclear fuel was loaded into the reactor on Tuesday, and Kepco hopes to start selling electricity from that reactor by late June.

In Osaka, about two dozen anti-nuclear protestors gathered in front of Kepco headquarters on Wednesday to protest the restarts, expressing concerns about safety and questioning the economics behind the decision to resume operations.

“Kepco has poured hundreds of billions of yen into new safety measures to restart not only the Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors, but also to extend the life of its aging Mihama No. 3 reactor and Oi No. 1 and 2 reactors,” said Tetsuen Nakajima, the chief priest at the Buddhist Myotsu-ji temple in Obama, Fukui Prefecture, and a longtime anti-nuclear activist who staged a brief hunger strike in protest prior to Wednesday’s start up.

“If Kepco were to spend this kind of money on a policy to get out of nuclear power, consumers would be supportive,” he said.

The two Oi reactors are 37 years old this year, while the Mihama reactor is 41 years old. Under new safety standards enacted following the March 11, 2011 Tohoku quake, tsunami, and triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operators must either scrap a plant after 40 years or apply for a two-decade extension that involves spending additional funds on increased safety measures.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority granted an extension to the Mihama plant in October last year. Kepco indicated in January it would apply to have the two old Oi reactors extended past 40 years.

The other three reactors currently in operation include two reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture and one reactor at the Ikata power plant in Ehime Prefecture.